Friday, September 7, 2007

German and the Monkeys

Returning from a trip to the Regional Health Directorate to secure a placement for my medical student girlfriend, I am accosted at work, and dragged to the back of the building. There, at the small amphitheatre used primarily for televised Sunday church service, I am told that I've been written into a new SKYY television series. An unscripted drama that, from what I understand, is about the trials and tribulations of a young woman named Mimi who has too many boyfriends and not enough time. I am told to sit in a chair and wait for my cue. I sit surrounded by about thirty cast and crew to watch as the drama unfolds.

Mimi and her boyfriend enter a club filled with dancing teens, all flamboyantly dragging on unlit cigarettes. The couple begin to dance, only to be interrupted by a hot young thing that wants to cut in. Our star cuts back and the couple continue to dance, much to the chagrin of the pouty antagonist. The couple leaves the stage and the girls in the club decide that it's time to teach the antagonizer a lesson. End scene.

The director sets up the next scenario, and I'm in it. I play "The German". The star of the show is my girlfriend. I am but one of her many playthings. The scene begins with the two of us relaxing on a beach, we banter for a few minutes, acting like a couple, but according to the director, without much chemistry. I have a feeling that the young star is uncomfortable with me in this role. I'm not exactly Mr. Smooth. The director goads her on, "Act like he's your boyfriend! Touch his hair, run your hands down his chest!"

Mimi receives a cell phone call, stands up and walks behind me. There, she ruffles my hair, puts her arm around my neck and proceeds to choke me with her forearm. The phone call is from yet another boyfriend. It's her father's driver, with whom she had previously arranged to meet - at this very same beach! - and promptly forgotten. He is on his way. The director tells me that I'm jealous, and I play along. I give the girl a hard time about neglecting me for a phone call, and wonder aloud about this driver. Perhaps he can drive us somewhere? She says no, he's busy. I ask her what she thinks of me, and she responds saying that I'm the one for her. Not like those blacks.

I'm quite startled by her remark. I audibly scoff, sit back in my chair and look at her. I wonder if that's what she thinks that "The German" wants to hear. That she's too good for black men. That only the white man measures up to her standard. Even though we know that Mimi is playing all the men for her own benefit, does she assume that the white man feels superior to "those blacks"?

The action continues, and the driver arrives on the scene. He sees the two of us together and becomes noticably jealous. I stand slowly looking him up and down, noticing that this is no ordinary driver. The two of them walk away off stage and have an animated conversation in Fanti. Mimi returns, and we walk off stage together, with her reassuring me that I'm the only one for her. I say "...and end scene", turn and take a bow. The assembled crowd politely applaud. I grab my bag and leave the amphitheatre.

On my way home from work, I stop by a local supply shack run by a lovely woman named Mary. I pass by Mary twice or more times everyday, and she always greets me with a booming "HELLO KEVIN!" Mary has numerous children, a husband recently left for a ten year stay the in US, and a few sisters who look exactly like her. She is my (self proclaimed) first Ghanaian friend. She supplies me with panno (white bread), tomatoes, hot peppers and sometimes spagetti. I've taken to stopping on my way home for a small bottle of Sprite and some conversation.

This evening, as I drink my bottle of fizzy sugar water, Mary asks me, "do you think blacks are monkeys?" I nearly choke on my beverage, and ask her what she means. She says that the whites think the blacks are like monkeys with their dark skin. I tell her no! Of course I don't think that way. I wonder to myself why would I even come to Ghana, if I felt that way. I try unsuccessfully to explain that I feel like all humans are like monkeys. That we're all just animals. Instead, I tell her that in Toronto, where I'm from, there are people from all over the world, even black people. She responds by asking if people there think blacks are like monkeys. I say no.

I feel like I'm denying the existence of racism, but can't find the words to communicate the subtleties of the subconscious, covert or systemic racism that goes on in Toronto. Do Torontonians think blacks are monkeys? I would guess that some of them do. Perhaps even some who work in the police force, in schools or at the local convenience store.

My blanket denial leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I wash it out with soda pop and head home. The short walk to the house leaves my head spinning. Am I "The German" or just some monkey with his head in the sand?

1 comment:

Kate said...
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